In 2018, I decided to start a side-project so I could have a second source of income. I thought that building a side-business would help me gain skills that I’d not otherwise acquire in my current job. It would be a year full of joy and disappointment, but little did I know that it would also turn out to be the best year for my personal growth.
I got into writing, found my true professional passion, generated around $4000 net revenue, and met great people who inspired and helped me.
Because I’ve written a couple of articles about my side-business in the past, I decided to switch the focus of this story and talk about the biggest lessons I’ve learned while building Cronhub. These lessons helped me to develop valuable mental models that I still use to make better decisions for my product. I think some of these lessons might be confronting for you, so please take these with a grain of salt as they’re based solely on my own experience.
If you have a full-time job, the chances are low that the work you do daily is portable. Having a side-project is a great opportunity for you to expose yourself to and build an audience. One reason some people prefer to work on Open Source Software (OSS) is because it’s a transferable asset—when you change jobs, you don’t lose what you have produced.
Building a side-project is a great way to learn new skills, and to showcase and sell your skills to future clients and employers. If you can code, then building a side-project is a great way to make something from scratch and get experience with technical decisions.
If you’re based in America (or even somewhere else), you probably already know that most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. I’m not judging anyone who chooses to live this lifestyle. However, I want assets that earn money while I sleep and not rent my time my whole life. If you’re like me, you value financial and personal freedom and seek ways to achieve it.
I’ve chosen a path that is less risky. I started a business on the side without quitting my full-time job. It’s possible that when my own business provides enough income, I will work on it full-time. Also, building something valuable that other people are willing to pay is a great feeling!
When you lack ideas, solving your own problem can be a good way to build something other people want. If you have the X problem, it’s very likely other people have the same problem. When you’re your own user, you have a huge advantage: many things suddenly become much easier, such as what to build next or how to understand your product market.
So many times I’ve seen people start something but never finish it. That’s why I praise people who actually launch something. When you start a project, you always think that finishing and launching your project is the hardest part. However, after the launch you realize that the most difficult part is just ahead. It’s where the actual work comes in. “If you build it, they will come” is a myth. You have to acquire your users, however you can.
Being a solo founder is hard, but it has a silver lining. The communication cost of making decisions and shipping something is extremely low. Do not let people tell you that you need a co-founder to build a successful business. I have many examples of solo founders building million-dollar companies. Of course, having a co-worker might make things much easier, but finding someone who is natural fit as your business partner is hard.
I don’t understand people who start a business to become their own boss but end up raising a ton of money from investors. You report to investors and they impact your decisions and, consequently, the direction of the company. It’s not a binary choice, and you can still build a successful business without raising a penny. Whether you need to raise money depends on your ultimate goal. If you want to build a hyper-growth company with hundreds of millions of revenue, then raising money might be a better choice. However, if you prefer to have a small team with full autonomy, then focus on making your business profitable and not on raising money.
If you’re a solo founder, I strongly suggest you invest heavily in building a sustainable distribution channel for your product. It could be optimizing for SEO or launching your product apps in different marketplaces. In the long run, building constant exposure for your product will help you to focus more on building and less on marketing it. This is important especially for single founders for whom finding enough time is always the biggest challenge.
Do not invest too much time early on designing the perfect pricing model for your product. As with any feature on your product, it’s okay to iterate on your pricing table and change it over time. Support yearly plans because you will be surprised how many customers prefer the yearly plan if it includes a discount.
Writing about your business and sharing your learnings with your audience is worth your time. Writing helps you to promote your work and expand your network. Regardless of whether your business succeeds or fails, you won’t lose your audience and it’s a great foundation for your next thing. Writing is also a great exercise for self-discovery. When you write, you become more self-aware and start to better understand your strengths and weaknesses. When you’re more self-aware, you become better at delegating your tasks and it helps your business.
##Sell your story Very often I see people using X products because of their stories. Some of my customers are my loyal readers who want to support me and my project. In fact, writing this article is one way of selling my story. Being good at sales is invaluable. Many developers are intimidated by sales, especially introverts. However, if you read To Sell is Human, you learn that you don’t have to be an extrovert to be good at sales. There are many ways to get into sales, and it doesn’t have to be cold calling or emailing. Writing, storytelling, or speaking at conferences are great ways to sell your personal brand and your products. Maybe start from there to build leverage and become better at sales.
There will be days, even weeks, when you’re unproductive and don’t make any progress. It’s always been a riddle for me, and I don’t think there is a magic formula for getting out of it. Sadly, the only solution I’ve found so far is to wait for the fog to lift.
Occasionally ask yourself whether you’re working on the most important task. Often we deviate from the right path and asking this question helps you to remedy it.
It’s vital, especially early on, to define the success metrics for your business. When you define and measure them, you can easily track your progress and build trust on your decisions. If your goal is to increase the conversion rate, then build tunnels and see which one sticks more. Running experiments early on should be part of any business. There is always uncertainty, and coming up with solutions is what makes the challenge of building your business so much fun.
I admit I have made this mistake many times, but I have learned my lesson. Don’t change your product roadmap based on a single user feedback. Try to notice patterns. Only when you’re sure that it’s the right thing to work on, start building. It’s important to find the balance between the features you think you should be working on and what your users think you should be working on. Over time, most founders develop improved intuition and judgment.
I can’t stress enough the importance of asking for what you want. Seek help, and don’t be shy. If you need advice, ask. Most people are generous and love helping others. I use email and Twitter to connect with people I admire and follow.
Reading stories like this one or stories about other makers building profitable products will inspire you. You’re the one who should make the steps. Believe in yourself, but, most importantly, believe in your work. Self-belief is the key to success in anything you do.
Thanks for reading!
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*Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash